New York City FC: Could a false nine be in order?
David Villa was the beating heart of New York City FC. Their first ever signing, their record appearance maker, their record goalscorer. He was the face of the franchise — and was, at one point, at the face of MLS also.
But he has now departed. With that comes arguably the most important offseason in the club’s history (their first offseason might have carried more significance, but this is now an established team going through a process of transition and succession).
And with the offseason well underway and the new season just a month or so from its commencement, New York seem to be preparing for life without a centre-forward.
Villa’s exit vacated one of the DP slots. Jesus Medina and Maxi Moralez remain, but there was now the opportunity for NYCFC to invest in a third DP. Many presumed this would be an out-and-out centre-forward to lead the line for the likes of Moralez and Medina to play off. But this week, it was announced that New York had signed Romanian international Alexandru Mitrita to a DP contract.
The 23-year-old is a versatile attacker with great dribbling skills, balance and quickness over short distances. New York invested $8.5 million in his services, which tells you how highly they regard his play, and his 12 goals in 16 games this season is indicative of the goal threat that he provides. But he has primarily played from the off the left flank, not as the number nine that many NYCFC fans were hoping for.
This leads me to think that Domenec Torrent and the coaching staff are considering a false-nine system which uses the versatile, interchangeable intelligence and attacking ability of Mitrita, Moralez and Medina to confuse opponents as they are sometimes left with no players to mark in central areas. Think of Roberto Firmino at Liverpool, Cesc Fabregas with Spain or even Lionel Messi, for a period, at Barcelona.
It is not always a successful system. Liverpool use it well in a 4-3-3 shape because they have Mohamed Salah and Saido Mane playing extremely high up the pitch on either wing. They stretch the pitch vertically and Firmino then works in the spaces in between. Medina could perform a similar role, as could Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, so there is scope for New York to play this way.
The system is also perfect for smaller but sharper attackers who rely on space and exposing defenders to create chances. Oddly enough, that is precisely what New York have in abundance. And with the craft and creativity of Moralez in the midfield, there would be the service into the fluent attackers for them to thrive.
Everyone expected New York to sign a striker. I did too. But perhaps they are going about this in a different way. Perhaps, with David Villa gone, this really is a new New York City FC.